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Beth Fisher

MA work

87 Decibels

Sound travels five times faster through water than it does in air.


The Moray Firth is a triangular-shaped inlet of the North Sea in north-eastern Scotland. The Firth’s most famous residents are its coastal bottlenose dolphin population of approximately 192: Muddy, Mischief, Porridge, Runny Paint, Chips, Magic Nick, Maverick, Pebbles, Tubbs, Sparkle, Can Opener, Honey, to name a few.

On a good day, marine mammals can barely see as far as their tails in turbid waters, but can maintain their social network acoustically for many miles; learning about their surroundings from natural sounds such as surf and shoal, ice and seltzer noise and the sounds of predators large and small. They see the ocean through sound. Today, anthropogenic additions to ocean noise have equalled natural noise for the first time in history. 

The acoustic landscape of Moray Firth is defined by the vessels and machines which sustain our consumptive society. With ambient underwater noise regularly exceeding 120db, the threshold at which marine mammals are disturbed, this region of the North Sea has the highest levels of anthropogenic noise in UK waters. What are the Moray Firth dolphins learning from supertankers, seismic guns, drilling platforms, low flying rescue helicopters? And what are they not learning about their environment because of us?

This is the acoustic bleaching of the sea.

This project looks to the coast, where anthropogenic noises originate and marine mammal habitats are the most heavily impacted. It speculates on the disruption of noisy drivers of the Scottish economy and the development of quiet coastal ecologies around the Moray Firth as better forms of cohabitation between humans and marine mammals.

87 decibels: the volume of a lawnmower, of power tools, of an orchestral crescendo. The maximum volume humans can be exposed to in the workplace according to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations. Humans place great importance on our ability to hear clearly and expend much effort to combat noise pollution from industry, vehicles and airplanes. Yet we are showing far less concern for the amount of noise we are generating beneath the waves, causing stress and damage in a world that is enveloped in sound in a way we can barely imagine. Relatively simple solutions exist to mitigate these problems; what is needed is the political will. By putting more humans to work in the water in the construction of a new quiet economy, this project creates an 87 decibel limit in the Moray Firth waters.

This project imagines an alternate afterlife for Macduff Harbour.​ Previously a major fishing port, the site is now dominated by shipbuilding and repair activities. With vessels growing larger, the harbour is under pressure to modernise and expand to accommodate these – an intensely noisy operation. I investigate how a new aquaculture venture can replace Macduff’s dwindling fishing industry and contribute to the quieting of the water around this industrial site.

Despite the fact that global demand far outweighs supply, the aquaculture of sea sponge in the UK is unexplored. The inherent material properties of sponge make it acoustically absorbent, as sound is dampened when it propagates through a large number of cavities in the material. Because the processing and farming of sponge is silent, it acts as the agent for quieting the water around Macduff. The ​sponge-processing building performs on land in the same way the sponge farm performs in the water – the processes which happen within it and its inherent material qualities are conducive to quiet.

This proposal hopes to expose the violence of marine noise pollution and incentivise a quieter ocean, serving as a new model for coastal industries operating in sensitive marine habitat sites more broadly.

Info

  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Architecture

    Programme

    MA Architecture, 2019

  • Degrees

  • BA Architecture, University of Cambridge, 2015
  • Experience

  • Architectural assistant, Epstein Joslin Architects, Cambridge MA, 2015-16; Architectural assistant, Dow Jones Architects, London, 2017